- Associated Press - Friday, May 12, 2017

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

VERMONT

Caledonian Record, May 12

On Wednesday, by a vote of 79-66, Vermont’s House passed S.22, a bill that legalized the cultivation, possession, and use of recreational marijuana on July 1, 2018. It now goes to the Governor’s desk where its fate is uncertain.

Six of our area representatives voted no: Beck, Feltus, Lawrence, Martel, Quimby, and Toll. Willhoit was absent, but would have voted no. We have long maintained that marijuana should be legal, but we understand why our reps oppose S.22.

We think the bill fails to address myriad complications sure to result from a significant shift in public policy.

Specifically, S.22 addresses neither youth prevention efforts nor public safety. The bill only establishes a “commission” to explore taxation and regulation. So essentially the bill says “grow it, smoke it, and hope for the best.”

We agree that consenting adults should be free to enjoy themselves in their own homes. But the science on substance abuse and addiction is compelling. The earlier in life that one experiments with any mind-altering substance, the more likely they are to become addicted.

S.22 punted on a one-time opportunity to earmark tax funds, from the sale and regulation of marijuana, for education and public safety efforts. How difficult would it have been to insist tax revenue from regulated marijuana sales go toward funding for a public information campaign and police training to decrease the numbers of impaired drivers on our roads?

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about S.22, after all of the legislative testimony received in the last three years, is that it only provides for a commission to explore legal sale, taxation, and regulation. These areas of policy are critical to successfully implementing legal marijuana. S.241, a holdover from last session, is at once fully vetted and would have been easy to incorporate.

Passage of S.22 isn’t the end of the world, and marijuana legalization has been a long time coming. But it’s a shame that lawmakers failed to deal with the serious consequences and implications sure to confront Vermonters should the Governor sign this bill into law.

Online:

http://bit.ly/2qa5uwH

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MAINE

Portland Press Herald, May 11

Sen. Susan Collins recently lamented “a profound lack of trust” in Washington that has made the business of bipartisan governance almost impossible.

In a recent joint television appearance with her Senate colleague Angus King, Collins observed that the nation is dividing into camps: “More and more, people are living with people who have the same views that they do. They are accessing news outlets that reinforce what they already think. … All of that combines to produce the divisions in our country that I think Washington reflects.”

Collins’ analysis is right, which is what makes her apparent acceptance of the president’s abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James Comey so difficult to understand. President Trump’s action fuels the very atmosphere of distrust that Collins remarked on, and it drives Americans further into their ideological camps.

We need independent institutions that are above politics, and Collins should be demanding that criminal investigations don’t turn into partisan skirmishes.

Collins should call for the appointment of an independent special counsel to make sure that the work Comey started will be concluded in a way in which the American public can have confidence.

Comey has been a controversial FBI director, and there are legitimate reasons to consider replacing him. But the timing and context of his termination is not business as usual.

Regardless of his past misdeeds, Comey was fired by Trump while overseeing an investigation into allegations of meddling on behalf of Trump’s presidential campaign by foreign intelligence agents. His dismissal reeks of cover-up.

It comes nearly a year after Comey’s involvement in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, but less than six weeks after Comey testified that he had seen no facts to support Trump’s claim that he had been “wiretapped” by the Obama administration. That makes his firing look like political payback

And the firing came one day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that Trump kept Gen. Michael T. Flynn on as national security adviser - receiving the most sensitive intelligence briefings - for 18 days after the administration was told that Flynn had been compromised by his ties to Russia and his lies to other administration officials. That - at best - looks like reckless conduct.

If there was wrongdoing by Trump or his associates, the public needs to know. And if it turns out to be something less sinister, the public needs to know that, too, in a way that is believable.

An investigation done by obscure FBI officials who just watched their boss get fired, reporting to a deputy attorney general appointed by one of the probe’s targets is not going to do that.

Collins should join those demanding an independent inquiry led by an independent counsel, to undo the “profound lack of trust” that is poisoning our politics.

Online:

http://bit.ly/2psZY9k

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The (Nashua) Telegraph, May 9

Along with the enormous rewards enjoyed by good schoolteachers comes terrible frustration.

Many wish they could do more for their students. And when the public focuses on the education system’s shortcomings, teachers sometimes take it personally.

They should not.

This is National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when it behooves those worried about schools to reflect on what is right with them, as well as what is wrong.

When we were young, most of us benefited from some truly great teachers. The good news is that our children and grandchildren are exposed to talented, dedicated teachers, too.

Are there a few people in the classroom who should find another line of work? Of course. Every profession has that problem. But by and large, our schools have excellent faculties.

Those good teachers and principals agonize about the quality of education, too. They see shortcomings they wish they could correct. They wonder why so-called education reform in our states and nation seems to be no more than moving from one fad to another. They wish someone would just let them teach.

For years, better schools have been a focus in Greater Nashua. The overwhelming majority of any criticisms have been at failures of the education system, not at the quality and dedication of those who, again, must teach while sharing many of the public’s frustrations.

What is perhaps most worrisome is that too many campaigns to improve schools seem to rely on strategies to lessen teachers’ creativity and flexibility - even to use technology to declare they are irrelevant. They are far from that. Second only to parents, they are essential to children. They earn our appreciation - and more important, our support - each and every day they transform lives in the classroom.

Online:

http://bit.ly/2qATsO1

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RHODE ISLAND

Providence Journal, May 10

Given his indictment Wednesday for embezzlement and misusing campaign finance funds, Providence City Council President Luis Aponte should resign immediately, both as president and as a member of that council. While he pleaded not guilty, he has been involved in several cases of highly dubious behavior, and he has lost the public’s trust.

The Board of Elections previously fined him $47,916 for missing campaign finance report deadlines in 2014 and 2015. And the Ethics Commission is investigating his votes on a zoning change that affected the man who was then his landlord.

Moreover, Mr. Aponte was involved in recent weeks in a sleazy maneuver to convene a meeting of the City Council, evidently to block the recall election of Kevin Jackson, the council’s former majority leader who himself has been charged with embezzlement. Voters this month had to throw Mr. Jackson out of office because he lacked the decency and dignity to resign his position gracefully.

The indictments of the council’s two top leaders have obviously given Providence another black eye. The stench of corruption in the City Council chamber makes it harder for the city to thrive economically, and makes it difficult for the capital city to get help from state taxpayers. Representatives of other communities are loath to plow their citizens’ dollars into a city whose leaders cannot be trusted.

Mayor Jorge Elorza called for Mr. Aponte to step down from his leadership post, as did U.S. Rep. James Langevin and five members of the City Council. But more party leaders in the state should be speaking out about corruption in their capital city. And it is outrageous that the City Council members voted Mr. Aponte and Mr. Jackson into leadership positions in the first place, even though both had campaign finance violations for repeatedly failing to file reports on time.

On top of corruption, the council under Mr. Aponte has been spectacularly unproductive. Like trolls under the bridge, its members seem to want people to pay a political price before they permit projects to go forward to benefit the public. The foot-dragging on an infrastructure bond to fix roads and sidewalks is a case in point.

We call on the City Council to remove Mr. Aponte from his leadership position if he refuses to act on his own. We certainly hope, however, that it will not come to that - that Mr. Aponte will leave more gracefully than Mr. Jackson did.

On May 2, voters sent a loud message that they have had enough, by removing Mr. Jackson by a landslide in a recall election.

Their will should be heeded. Too much is at stake for Providence - a city trying to attract new businesses and facing possibly crippling financial problems - to continue putting up with leaders who cannot be trusted.

Online:

http://bit.ly/2qaHkSP

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CONNECTICUT

(Waterbury) Republican-American, May 11

Folks who run the Waterbury gauntlet regularly know that the infamous Mixmaster overpass, while requiring those passing through to be watchful, seldom is the culprit in the frequent tie-ups that occur on Interstate Highway 84 East. Officials who yearn for a massive construction project to replace the half-century-old Mixmaster employ the ruse of adding accident statistics east and west of the overpass to make it appear more dangerous than it really is.

The worst thing that can be said of the Mixmaster, apart from the fact it’s ugly and splits the Brass City in half, is that the short approach lanes make exiting state Route 8 onto eastbound I-84 challenging in heavy traffic. The aging Mixmaster also requires regular inspections and repairs, and is due for $200 million in rehabilitation work beginning in 2019.

But do these inconveniences and costs justify an $8 billion, pre-inflation, pre-corruption, pre-cost-overrun spending extravaganza - to say nothing of the massive traffic jams, noise, dust and pollution generated by years of demolition and construction? The Mixmaster is 16 years newer than the Commodore Isaac Hull bridge on state Route 8, linking Derby and Shelton; there have been no credible calls for it to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

Federal, state and municipal leaders gathered in Waterbury on May 8 to tout the planned transportation projects, including the Mixmaster; the $70 million signalization and siding work on the Waterbury-to-Bridgeport rail line used by Metro-North; and the $14.4 million, federally funded reconstruction of the Freight Street corridor. Among the officials present were U.S. Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, and Mayor Neil M. O’Leary.

Mayor O’Leary has presented a $410.2 million budget proposal for 2017-18 that calls for no tax increase. But for the most part, the money for these projects won’t come from his budget.

Mr. Redeker serves a governor, Dannel P. Malloy, who faces deficits as far as the eye can see and is poised to lay off hundreds of employees to cut costs. The governor and legislature have not ruled out raising taxes again, to cover 2017-19 expenses.

The federal budget confronting Rep. Esty is in deficit, as it has been since long before she took office in 2013, and the U.S. Debt Clock is ticking rapidly toward $20 trillion.

Yet, in this worsening fiscal environment, politicians talk up an $8 billion project as if they were deciding how much to spend on lunch.

Should the Mixmaster be replaced? Probably. Can the Connecticut and U.S. governments afford to replace it? All of the available evidence leads to an emphatic no. And even if they could afford it, there certainly are better ways to save lives, and improve the flow of people and goods to and from New England.

Online:

http://bit.ly/2pHi3wu

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MASSACHUSETTS

BOSTON GLOBE, May 9

Even in the face of a looming constitutional crisis over Russian interference in an American election, it is easy to lose sight of all the other things that matter. For instance, four times per year, a team of auditors files a report to the American people and their leaders about the progress of the country’s longest war. Few people read through all the hundreds of pages, much less parse the details they contain. The forever war in Afghanistan long ago became a forgotten fiasco.

There’s no excuse for this willful blindness. Indeed, the continued calamity that these reports meticulously document is made possible only through public inattention. As the Trump administration mulls an escalation of the war, Americans should read through the report cards of where things stand.

And a president inordinately obsessed with “winning” should consider what that means in Afghanistan, if it’s possible, and what’s it’s likely to cost.

To read the 35 reports, issued quarterly since 2008 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, is to appreciate the vast scale of the failure. US taxpayers have allocated more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars to the fight in Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks, including $71 billion for reconstruction and security. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more reconstruction money than the United States spent on the Marshall Plan after World War II.

The return on that investment? Staggeringly poor. “Afghanistan lacks the capacity - financial, technical, managerial, or otherwise - to maintain, support, and execute much of what has been built or established during more than 14 years of international assistance,” the SIGAR report concludes.

A U.S. report released Wednesday said that widespread corruption in Afghanistan has undermined efforts to rebuild the country and urged the U.S. mission to make anticorruption efforts a top priority.

The decades of war that have ravished the region and its people is both a cause and effect. Right now, the war is going badly for the Afghan government. It controls only 63 percent of the country’s districts. The Taliban insurgency, aided by Pakistan’s geostrategic complicity, is growing its ranks and seizing more ground.

One economic success, such as it is, has been the creation of the world’s largest opium crop - despite $8.5 billion spent on counternarcotics efforts. The value of the drug trade, which employs 12 percent of the population and provides 60 percent of Taliban revenue, is worth $1.56 billion - meaning the global heroin habit supplies the equivalent of about 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.

Corruption is at the root of much of this woe. US officials - stunningly - didn’t fully appreciate its corrosive effects until 2008, when efforts to eradicate it were put on par with those against the poppy. And it was just about as successful.

Desertion and corruption are rife in the security forces. More than 1,300 army personnel, including a few generals, were fired for corruption just last year. Members of the security forces have been caught selling supplies to the Taliban, extorting their own men, and inflating the number of people under their command and keeping the extra paychecks. Last year, “Afghans paid more in bribes than the government is expected to generate in revenue from taxes, customs tariffs and other sources of income,” SIGAR found.

“The ultimate point of failure for our efforts … wasn’t an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker concluded.

Whatever its root cause - or the secondary cause, for that matter - the human suffering has struggled for description. There have been 111,000 Afghans killed since 2001, and more than 116,000 injured, including 31,000 civilians. Millions have been displaced, fueling the global refugee crisis.

Since the 9/11 attacks, 2,396 US soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and more than 20,000 have been wounded. That’s a bill that will not fully come due for generations: “The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans,” researchers from Harvard concluded.

A new surge of forces is a familiar tactic in a conflict plagued by failed strategy.

In 2010, the Obama administration had 100,000 pairs of boots on the ground and tried to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table through aggressive bombardment and increased fighting. It didn’t work.

Today, there are about 8,400 US soldiers and Marines deployed - along with 25,000 contractors and others. There are 4,900 NATO troops there too, though their official combat operations ended in 2014.

That’s a “few thousand” short of what’s needed to break the stalemate, the top US commander in the country recently told the Senate. “Breaking a stalemate” sounds an awful lot like “unwinnable.” That’s something to keep in mind for a president who has rarely spoken about Afghanistan.

Trump’s fickle definition of “winning” may be just what the war in Afghanistan needs. He’ll have the perfect chance to articulate it at a NATO summit in Brussels on May 25. More than 1,130 people from NATO nations have died in the fighting.

Americans and our alliance partners deserve a full accounting of what soldiers will risk their lives to achieve, what their tax dollars will buy, and what the metrics for success are.

Those who’ve lost their lives in the conduct of America’s longest war deserve from us vigilant attention to this conflict, the details of which we’ve ignored for too long. Whatever fresh firefight erupts in Washington tomorrow, remember that there are still many Americans in actual gun battles.

Online:

http://bit.ly/2r9xMoE

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